THE AUTEUR RISES
Yes, Sofia Coppola has heard the saying: “I want Sofia Coppola to direct my life.” She’s flattered by the line, which became something of an internet meme in recent years — it even has shown up in promotional materials for her latest film — but she also finds it amusing. Really amusing. Coppola may be an acclaimed filmmaker, an Oscar-winning screenwriter and a fashion figure with a certain elegant, low-key personal style — Coppola says chic in the easy, unpretentious way you want to say it, whereas I say it like I’m dribbling Froot Loops from my mouth — but she’s also a parent. And any parent knows you can direct a life only so much. I want Sofia Coppola to direct my life? “It’s so funny to hear that,” she says. “I’m living with a 10-year-old who thinks the opposite.”
Coppola smiles. It’s a mild spring afternoon in Greenwich Village and we’ve met for lunch at Margaux, a cosy restaurant inside the Marlton Hotel, a former single-room-occupancy building renovated into a downtown escape. Woodpanelled and full of homey touches like a fireplace and over-size key rings, it looks like the kind of place where Wes Anderson might leap up from behind the concierge desk. Coppola and her husband, Thomas Mars, lead singer of celebrated French electro-rock band Phoenix, live not far away in the West Village with their two daughters, 10-year-old Romy and seven-year-old Cosima.
I’d been told Coppola can be shy in person, soft-spoken to the point of a whisper, but she’s not at all today. She’s engaging and funny and utterly absent of airs, whether she’s talking about the best-picture envelope fiasco at the recent Oscars (“It’s sort of fun that it’s live, that things can happen”) or what it’s like to be the spouse of a rock star who has played Madison Square Garden (“I’m not, like, the total rock wife on the side of the stage, but I like to see them play”).
Because this is lunch with Coppola, I feel added pressure to render very specific, idiosyncratic details about our meeting. So here goes: The restaurant banquette where we’re sitting? It’s classically upholstered, an olive green. Sparkling water arrives in an emerald-coloured jug. There’s a trio at a table in the corner having some kind of business meeting, speaking German. At least I think it’s German. I order the kale salad (yes: super boring, sorry). Coppola gets the poached eggs and asks for hot water, as she has brought her own green tea. She’s wearing a pair of light-blue jeans, white tennis shoes and a vintage Yves Saint Laurent safari jacket.
A precise, almost fetishistic eye for detail is among the signatures that make Coppola, now 46, one of the most distinct filmmakers working today. After six features — The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, Marie Antoinette, Somewhere, The Bling Ring and the forthcoming southern gothic dark comedy The Beguiled — even the casual moviegoer can recognise her specific style. Coppola’s films are rigorously atmospheric. Dreamy. Often beautiful. Small, impeccable choices — a location (the Park Hyatt Tokyo in Lost in Translation), a piece of music (Heart’s Magic Man in The Virgin Suicides) or costuming (a pair of Chuck Taylors that cleverly shows up in the 18th-century wardrobe of Marie Antoinette) — often register as much as the big, dramatic moments.
Coppola first came to the public’s attention as the daughter of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola ( The Godfather, Apocalypse Now). But in describing Sofia’s discerning eye for detail, Roman Coppola, Sofia’s older brother and frequent collaborator, sees the influence of their mother, Eleanor, an artist and filmmaker herself who recently released a new film of her own, Paris Can Wait, at age 81. “Simple things, like a grouping of wildflowers — my mum always noticed,” Roman says. “I think Sofia inherited that.” He describes a dinner at Sofia’s home: “There are always details that make something feel special: name cards, the way she writes things that has an appreciation for the way they look that’s not fussy but genuine.”
Coppola’s films are similarly personal. They’re never about cinematic shock and awe. Instead they open slowly like a cherished jewel box. Her work isn’t to everyone’s taste — “Sofia Coppola: You Either Love Her or Hate Her” read a mildly bombastic headline on a Slate essay several years back — but mass appeal has never been her goal. Lost in Translation is Cop- pola’s biggest hit, and its $120 million worldwide gross is like a slow weekend for a Fast and the Furious instalment.
Still, Coppola remains a meaningful presence in filmmaking not just because she’s a working female director, a status that is depressingly rare. Coppola’s one of a few American directors who keep making small, original movies — she’s a throwback to the industry’s long-gone auteur era. “When you look at her boxed set of work, it’s such varied material,” says her producing partner Youree Henley. And yet all of Coppola’s movies are undeniably hers. Says Kirsten Dunst, who has been there for most of them, playing sister Lux Lisbon in The Virgin Suicides and the titular queen in Marie Antoinette, making a cameo in The Bling Ring and now co-starring as schoolteacher Edwina Danny in The Beguiled: “When you see a Sofia movie, you know it’s a Sofia movie.”
Early on, stories about Coppola followed a rather predictable arc. They described the daughter of a moviemaking giant thrown into the harsh public spotlight after her father cast her as a teenager in a key role in his contentious sequel The Godfather Part III, and then her rebirth as a director, and there was often a slightly condescending/sexist rumination about her father’s influence (as well as her previous marriage to director Spike Jonze). Listen: I adore Francis Ford Coppola’s movies as much as I adore my own children — I might like The Godfather even more — but at this point in her career, Sofia Coppola feels very much like her own director, and the father-daughter thing is pretty played out. It’s much more interesting to talk about where Coppola is today, especially
Filmmaker Sofia Coppola
Sofia with her father, director Francis Ford Coppola, in 1989